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Here we go again: another supposedly ‘Catholic’ US university honours a prominent anti-Catholic. But why are we all so surprised?

And why are secularised institutions still allowed by the Church to describe themselves as ‘Catholic’?

By on Friday, 18 May 2012

Former US House Speaker Newt Gingrich speaks at Georgetown University (AP)

Former US House Speaker Newt Gingrich speaks at Georgetown University (AP)

I begin with an editorial, headlined “Disappointed but not surprised”, published in The Catholic Standard, the newspaper of the Catholic Archdiocese of Washington. This says most of what needs to be said, both about the invitation by Georgetown University (a supposedly Catholic institution) to the supposedly Catholic US Secretary for Health Kathleen Sebelius (who promotes abortion) to speak there, and also about Georgetown University itself:

Late last Friday, Georgetown University announced that US Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius is the featured speaker for an awards ceremony at the University’s Public Policy Institute. This news is a disappointment but not a surprise.

As is well known, Secretary Sebelius is the architect of the “HHS mandate”, now federal law, which requires all employers – including religious institutions – to provide health insurance coverage of abortion-inducing drugs, sterilisation and contraceptives for its employees and redefines religious ministry to exclude Catholic social services, hospitals and universities if they serve or employ non-Catholics. Given her position, it is disappointing that she would be the person that Georgetown University would choose to honor.

Founded in 1789 by John Carroll, a Jesuit priest, Georgetown University has, historically speaking, religious roots. So, too, do Harvard, Princeton and Brown. Over time, though, as has happened with these Ivy League institutions, Georgetown has undergone a secularisation (my emphasis).

This, says the Standard, is “due in no small part to the fact that much of its leadership and faculty find their inspiration in sources other than the Gospel and Catholic teaching. Many are quite clear that they reflect the values of the secular culture of our age. Thus the selection of Secretary Sebelius for special recognition, while disappointing, is not surprising”.

This seems both reasonable and realistic. It says, almost, well, Georgetown University used to be Catholic and now isn’t: what do you expect? So why are US Catholics making such a fuss about this invitation? After all, to take an example for me closer at hand, Oxford used to be a Catholic university. Then it became an Anglican university (to receive a degree you had to accept the Thirty-Nine Articles of Religion). Today it’s an entirely secular university (which makes it possible for Catholics to attend it once more) , though it has a theology department, many senior teaching positions in which are reserved for Anglicans. But the university operates in an entirely secular way: nobody asks whether those it honours support abortion or execrate religion: some do, some don’t. Catholic members of the University like me take this for granted: it would be nice if it were otherwise, but it’s not. So why don’t US Catholics similarly accept that Georgetown has just changed? It happens.

Well, there’s a very good answer to that question: it’s that in its own official description of itself, it still is a Catholic institution and hasn’t changed at all. Being Catholic, and Jesuit, is part of its sales pitch. So perhaps the Catholic Standard is wrong to be so fatalistic. Have a look at Georgetown’s website if you doubt me:

Established in 1789, Georgetown is the nation’s oldest Catholic and Jesuit university. Drawing upon this legacy, we provide students with a world-class learning experience focused on educating the whole person through exposure to different faiths, cultures and beliefs. With our Jesuit values and location in Washington, DC, Georgetown offers students a distinct opportunity to learn, experience and understand more about the world.

So what exactly are Jesuit values these days, we ask ourselves. What does Georgetown think they are? I ask not to invite the horse-laugh some of you are no doubt already emitting, but with the intention of posing a serious question. Here’s another question: if Georgetown University really has “undergone a secularisation”, why is it still calling itself Catholic? More to the point, why is the Archdiocese of Washington allowing it to call itself Catholic? Georgetown is presumably describing itself as Catholic in order to attract Catholics as students, and perhaps deceitfully to allay the anxieties of their parents. If so, its self-description is simply fraudulent. Is there no American equivalent of our Trade Descriptions Act?

The Archdiocese of Washington, according to the New York Times, released a strong letter of rebuke to Georgetown’s president on Tuesday afternoon, calling Ms Sebelius the architect of the birth control mandate — “the most direct challenge to religious liberty in recent history”. But if even the archdiocese’s own newspaper accepts that it is now a secular university, why bother?

The conflict, as the New York Times reminds us, is only the latest example of friction between Catholic universities and their local bishops, who, as it says “are charged with ensuring that the universities uphold Catholic doctrine and exhibit an explicitly Catholic identity”.

But is this now a realistic expectation? I ask this as a genuine question. From this side of the great pond, I just don’t know, and solicit the informed opinion of any American reader who may be reading. This isn’t a problem we have here. Is this a fight that can still be won? The Cardinal Newman Society of Virginia, which seems to be a rather admirable outfit, is dedicated to waging precisely this particular culture war. The New York Times says it has “played an influential role as a whistle-blower, alerting bishops when they find a university stepping out of line” and informs us that “This spring, the group compiled a list of 12 Catholic universities with commencement speakers they found objectionable because of their support for abortion rights or gay rights.”

Its mission statement reads as follows:

Founded in 1993, the mission of The Cardinal Newman Society is to help renew and strengthen Catholic identity in Catholic higher education.

The Society seeks to fulfill its mission by assisting and supporting education that is faithful to the teaching and tradition of the Catholic Church; producing and disseminating research and publications on developments and best practices in Catholic higher education; advising students, alumni, trustees, campus officials, faculty and others engaged in renewing and strengthening the Catholic identity of Catholic colleges and universities and Church-affiliated ministries at non-Catholic colleges and universities; and studying and promoting the work of our patron, John Henry Cardinal Newman, especially as it relates to Catholic higher education and the unity of faith and reason.

But can they possibly win? Have they, in fact, had any success in persuading the authorities of any officially Catholic university to “disinvite” a speaker with anti-Catholic beliefs it was intending to honour? Again, this is a real question: if they have been successful in this way, I’m at least partly wrong.

I am pessimistic about this. Not about the renewal of the Church herself: that is already happening. But in the case of universities like Georgetown, has not the whole process of secularisation gone too far? Should not effectively secularised institutions be declared non-Catholic by the Church herself? The dangers of the present situation are obvious. Every time a self-proclaimed Catholic university like Georgetown honours a Catholic apostate it promotes the notion that Catholics can believe what they like, for all the world as though they were Anglicans (there is or used to be an organisation for Anglican priests who don’t believe in the existence of God).

I end on an uncertain note. I have written this piece as much to gather information as to air my own anxieties. This is still, clearly, very much a live question in America. Why is that? Here, it was unhappily settled centuries ago.

  • Benedict Carter

    From “Rorate Caeli” blog:

    Another bishop toowoombed

    Bishop Francesco Micciché, 68, of Trapani (Sicily, Italy) suffered today the same fate of Bishop emeritus Morris, of Toowoomba, Australia. From the Bollettino of the Holy See Press Office:

    “The Holy Father, Benedict XVI, has dismissed from the pastoral care of the diocese of Trapani (Italy) H. E. Bishop Francesco Miccichè and has named Apostolic Administrator ad nutum Sanctae Sedis of the same diocese H. E. Archbishop Alessandro Plotti, emeritus of Pisa.”

    Bishop Morris is now, of course, part of the dissenters’s speaking circuit. Micciché’s problem is of a different kind: over a million euros have disappeared from two diocesan foundations, and the Bishop Micciché is being personally investigated for this by the local prosecutor’s office.

  • teigitur

    8/10 . were you up all night thinking up that riposte?

  • Djm912 Douglas Miller

    What is that Masonic looking design on Gingrich”s left?
    Why is so little said about Masonic secrecy and male dominance?

  • Oconnord

    I wish. I had way too busy a morning. Something I try to avoid on Saturdays.

  • Oconnord

    The article mentions the speaker’s pro-abortion views once, in the first paragraph and even then in brackets. It then uses the word a second, but only in a question. Hardly a way of making a “precise” point. The majority of the article speaks in general terms. 

    The fact that you concentrate on the issue of abortion merely illustrates my point about moral relativism. There many ways a speaker could disagree with catholic doctrine, but they are usually ignored in favour of sexual matters.

  • theroadmaster

    It seems like once venerable Catholic educational Institutes and universities founded on the “Jesuit Tradition” in the US are selling their spiritual souls for a “mess of potage”, to paraphrase the bible.  Increasingly their faculties promote speakers and policies, which run counter to the deeply-held tenets of the Catholic Faith.  The excuses trotted out range from universities providing freedom for speakers(whose policies they may not necessarily agree with) in the name of free speech to expanding philosophical borders in the name of “creativity”.  Their dissent goes directly against the binding terms of The educational Apostolic Constitution  ”
    Ex Corde Ecclesiae”(1990)  which formulated the expectations of the Catholic Church in relation to Catholic educational  bodies remaining faithful to the mission and doctrines of the Church.  Some intervention is necessary from diocesan bishops to reinforce the contractual nature of the document.

  • GFFM

     Georgetown and the majority of “Catholic” institutions are nominally so and they continue to claim this identity for PR and fundraising purposes only. We can lay this state of affairs squarely at the feet of the bishops of the United States. 99% of them have said nothing and done nothing as Catholic theology departments and administration ignored Church teaching and did so publicly with impunity. Georgetown has acted like this for years and the bishop is now just saying something? Too little too late. Cardinal Dolan did the same in Milwaukee when he was Archbishop there. He did nothing and said nothing about the shenanigans there. Again, expect more of the same from the bishops. The current canonical case Blatty is leading against Georgetown has come from the laity of course. The bishops would never do such a thing; they might get bad press.

  • GFFM

     No. You are incorrect. Vatican II is not to blame; the episcopacy is to blame primarily.

  • JByrne24

    Annie writes “let’s not forget” this [Jesuits covering up religious symbols].

    Better still let’s use 2 or 3 of our billions of brain cells, which should be more than sufficient, to enable us to understand this.

    Annie’s unspoken, absurd (and disgraceful), but strongly made, insinuation, that the Georgetown Jesuits were acting in some irreligious way is very silly and offensive.

    Obama, and White House aids, would have had in mind The Constitutional requirement of the total separation of Church and state, and the Jesuits were being sensible.

  • Fr.Thomas Poovathinkal



  • JabbaPapa

    Good old nasty JB24 !!!

  • JabbaPapa

    Cripes your interpretative methodology is insufficiently well-informed by semiotic theory !!!

  • Benedict Carter

    Vatican II razed the bulwarks against the world, in the Church and in Catholic academia. Of course it’s to blame. Which document was it that called for full freedom of thought and expression in Catholic educational institutions? 

  • GaryLockhart

    People who incorrectly claim that the Constitution requires “the total separation of Church and state” suffer from cranial rectumitus.
    You must have attended law school with such mental eunuchs as Hillary Rodham, William Jefferson Clinton, Elena Kagan, Stephen Breyer, Sonia Sotomayor, Ruth Ginsburg, Eric Holder and Barry Soetoro.

  • Benedict Carter

    You a Jesuit, Father? I’ve heard all that from an Indian Jesuit before now. 

    Perhaps one should at this point remind you of Pope Pius IX’s wonderfully concise explanation. You appear to be in great need of reading it:

    “Not without sorrow we have learned that another error, no less destructive, has taken possession of some parts of the Catholic world, and has taken up its abode in the souls of many Catholics who think that one should have good hope of the eternal salvation of all those who have never lived in the true Church of Christ. Therefore, they are wont to ask very often what will be the lot and condition of those who have not submitted in any way to the Catholic faith, and, by bringing forward most vain reasons, they make a response favorable to their false opinion. Far be it from Us, Venerable Brethren, to presume on the limits of the divine mercy which is infinite; far from Us, to wish to scrutinize the hidden counsel and “judgements of God” which are “a great abyss” (Ps. 35.7) and cannot be penetrated by human thought. But, as is Our Apostolic Duty, we wish your episcopal solicitude and vigilance to be aroused, so that you will strive as much as you can to drive form the mind of men that impious and equally fatal opinion, namely, that the way of eternal salvation can be found in any religion whatsoever. May you demonstrate with skill and learning in which you excel, to the people entrusted to your care that the dogmas of the Catholic faith are in no wise opposed to divine mercy and justice.
    “For, it must be held by faith that outside the Apostolic Roman Church, no one can be saved; that this is the only ark of salvation; that he who shall not have entered therein will perish in the flood; but, on the other hand, it is necessary to hold for certain that they who labor in ignorance of the true religion, if this ignorance is invincible, will not be held guilty of this in the eyes of God. Now, in truth, who would arrogate so much to himself as to mark the limits of such an ignorance, because of the nature and variety of peoples, regions, innate dispositions, and of so many other things? For, in truth, when released from these corporeal chains ‘we shall see God as He is’ (1 John 3.2), we shall understand perfectly by how close and beautiful a bond divine mercy and justice are united; but as long as we are on earth, weighed down by this mortal mass which blunts the soul, let us hold most firmly that, in accordance with Catholic teaching, there is “one God, one faith, one baptism” (Eph. 4.5); it is unlawful to proceed further in inquiry.
    “But, just as the way of charity demands, let us pour forth continual prayers that all nations everywhere may be converted to Christ; and let us be devoted to the common salvation of men in proportion to our strength, ‘for the hand of the Lord is not shortened’ (Isa. 9.1) and the gifts of heavenly grace will not be wanting to those who sincerely wish and ask to be refreshed by this light.”

  • Oconnord

    And you are “Speaking tongues” as if it’s impressive. Try to be brave and address my point. It was a fair one.  

  • GFFM

     The selling of souls has been going on for over 35 years. Those of us who attended said institutions were crying foul in the 1970s and no one listened in the episcopate, no one. And they are still not listening. Anti-life and dissenting speakers have abounded at 99% of these institutions for years and years. And always the same appeal to “freedom of inquiry” on the part of the administrators at the top. Almost never has a defender of life or a non-dissenting theologian or feminist ever been invited in the spirit of “free inquiry.” Again, Georgetown has been inviting speakers like Sebelius for years–few in the hierarchy have every objected. That needs to change, but I predict it will be the laity who will do the heavy lifting.

  • David Lindsay

     “So little said”? You could have fooled me!

  • justyntoo

    i think the phrase – wolf in sheeps clothing has the best definition of why . as we know , evil can use all forms of persuasion – lying , red herring , obliqueness , so on . so , where there is innocence there will be coruption . to me this is just another child abuse scandal where we have the people doing the dirt to those looking to them for the truth , with them walking around and promoting their goodnees so as to entice more victims .

  • justyntoo

    just a note – your reference to sacrificing infants to satan – that is exactly what abortion is .

  • theroadmaster

    You have reinforced very articulately the main points that I have made and I have just read that William Blatty the renowned and awarding winning author, has filed a Canon Law lawsuit against Georgetown University in his capacity as an ex-Alumni, because of the scandalous nature of it’s actions over the years which have betrayed the foundational Faith upon which it was founded.  Let us hopeful that the figures in authority who have influence in that once esteemed center of higher Catholic learning, can listen to reason and recapture the vision that the University once possessed.

  • huanggua804

  • JabbaPapa

    Sort of, but this is institutionalised child murders we’re talking about here…

  • JabbaPapa

    It means that you haven’t the slightest clue what’s being talked about here.

  • Fr.Thomas Poovathinkal


  • LocutusOP

    The Church has a very simple view on sexual matters. In fact, it is one of the very few which can be summed up in 1 or two sentences: “All sexual activity should take place within marriage. To artificially furstrate the pro-creative function of sex goes against God’s plan for the union between man and woman and must therefore be avoided.”

    I would not so much even phrase this as a position on sex, but rather as a position on the right relations between the sexes – one of many which combine to form the teaching of the Catholic church on our duties towards God as stewards of His creation.

    On virtually all other issues, Catholic teaching cannot be summed up in one or two sentences. So, for instance, someone calling for increased use of the death penalty would not necessarily be speaking against Catholic doctrine because the death penalty can be used to save lives. If, on the other hand, the person was to advocate for the increased use of the death penalty for revenge, then that would contradict Catholic teaching on the right use of the death penalty.

    Similarly, while we all have a duty to look out for the frail, we can disagree on how. A person would only be teaching contrary to Catholic doctrine if he/she claimed that we have no duty to do it.

    The issues become even more complex when you consider that both the death penalty and healthcare involve economic considerations, and that in itself is a whole minefield with regards to Catholic teaching.

    Of course, the issue with inviting this woman is of a totally different matter. It would be bad enough if she was advocating these issues on her own. What makes her invitation a matter of grave seriousness is the fact that she wants to take it upon herself to determine the role of the church within the world, and she wants to force Church institutions to contribute towards committing acts of grave evil.

    This is not something the church can or should accept and anybody with even a slight understanding of the teachings of the Catholic church – or even the constitution of the U.S. – should be able to understand this.

  • LocutusOP

    It would be much easier for all of us if the Catholic church asserted that the death penalty can under no circumstances be permitted. It does not, because the issue is far more complex than it might first appear. Personally, I think part of the reason for that is because the Church has not always been against the death penalty through the centuries.

    Nonetheless, this issue is a bit or a red herring, and rather than be diverted by it, we should focus our attention on the issue at hand in the article. The death penalty has reared its ugly head on several articles on the Catholic Herald before, and there will no doubt be other occasions to discuss it.

  • LocutusOP

    If an organisation calls itself Catholic with diocesan approval then it belongs within the fold of the Catholic church.

    If it does not have that approval then it is not Catholic – that is, within the Catholic church – regardless of what it labels itself.

  • JByrne24

    I’m afraid you sound like the hair-splitting lawyer. The clause against the establishment of any religion by law ”
    was intended to erect a wall of separation between church and state.” (Thomas Jefferson and, in more recent times, the Supreme Court)
    That is to say that this is the intention and meaning of the clause.

  • JabbaPapa

    Because “under no circumstances” is not Universal, therefore not Catholic.

    The Christ nevertheless preached directly and specifically against it.

  • JessicaHof

    Perhaps they find the teaching of the Church too hard for them? If so, should they not be more honest about it?

  • Gabriel Austin

    “I predict it will be the laity who will do the heavy lifting”.

    And that without the bishops, as in the time of the Arians. It would be easier to refer to Jesuit colleges, as distinct from Catholic colleges. Bishops have no authority over Jesuits.

    An interesting sidenote on  Georgetown: It was financed from the sale of so-called slaves.  

  • Yannip

    The Masonic sign in the background at a catholic institution should be a hint- the smoke of Satan continues its infiltration

  • GFFM

    “It would be easier to refer to Jesuit colleges, as distinct from Catholic colleges.”
    Jesuit university PR departments already do this. Most Jesuit institutions refer to their Jesuit identity instead of the Catholic heritage and identity. Jesuits themselves do the same.

    I also think Jesuit institutions became corrupt for another reason. Because of anti-Catholicism in the US and suspicion of Catholics (still prevalent in the culture by the way) Catholic colleges and institutions were and are “eager” to not look intellectually “behind the times” shall we say. Georgetown especially has suffered from a kind of inferiority complex about its “traditional” Catholic past in comparison wit the Ivy’s. So Georgetown, Boston College, Marquette all have followed the latest theological and cultural trends in their philosophy and theology departments.  They’ve cared nothing about authentic Catholic identity for years. About 5 years ago I was asked to lead a discussion for a small group of young untenured faculty members at a Jesuit institution about how to navigate the achievement of  tenure when one is a believing Catholic. These young profs were afraid their faith would be held against them. I had little advice for them. In a very real way they are recusants in an academic culture–once Catholic–which will not tolerate what they believe. Such is the state of affairs throughout the US.

  • LocutusOP

    Whereas I can accept it in principle, but not in practice.

    What Christ preached about was using the death penalty as punishment – which the Church does not allow. Clearly the adulterous woman was no danger to others and only put the salvation of herself and her partner in danger.

    What Christ did not address in that passage is what should be done when the death penalty is the only recourse to save lives….The church has taught that it is permissible if there are no other options. I happen to agree that it is a sensible teaching since we are all duty-bound to protect the innocent.

    I argue that none of the countries which use the death penalty have the moral right to do it. Even if they did, there is no way it would be used fairly, so I cannot push for it in practice.

    I don’t really understand what you meant by  ‘Because “under no circumstances” is not Universal, therefore not Catholic.’

  • JabbaPapa

    Because it’s sometimes necessary to use lethal force in self-defence, and that of the community, which may occasionally mean that someone somewhere has to deliberately decide to kill someone dangerous for protective reasons, which is an area where the line between Police work and Judiciary work can get a little blurred.

    If it weren’t for that blurred line and such fringe cases, I’d argue that the death penalty can NEVER be justified.

  • rjt1

    The problem of educational institutions which have abandoned fidelity to Catholic teaching is not unique to the United States.

  • LocutusOP

    It seems you answered your own question then.

  • Oconnord

    It means you are too cowardly to address the subject and try to intimidate with big words that mean nothing. 

    “Empty vessels, big noise”, “Little man, big shield”. There’s lot’s of truisms about your comment.

    Because you never try to answer the question asked.